The Perfect Glue–A Sticky Question

Glue is the stuff that holds your life together. Well, at least your collages and art journal pages. Glue isn’t that complicated–after all, it all sticks one thing to another. But there are three elements of glue that make a huge difference to you as an artist.

Water in glue causes paper to wrinkle

1. How much water is in the glue? Paste has less water, glue has more. The more water you put on your paper, the more it soaks up. The more water soaks into your artwork, the more it wrinkles. The more it wrinkles, the more likely it is to stay warped after it dries.

Acrylic medium, which many paper artists use as glue,  is simply acrylic paint without any color added. It’s a type of plastic that prevents paint–and your efforts to glue–from drying quickly. Live in a dry climate? This is a useful glue. I don’t like it as a sealant, but that’s another blog. Read more on gel medium.

Glue sticks are glue or paste in a solid format that you rub on one side and glue to the other. Portable, easy to use. Work for light to medium-weight projects. Personally, I’m not a fan. They dry out fast, the glue doesn’t seem to hold, and the right amount is hard to get to the edges.

Methyl cellulose is a plant product that won’t rot or attract  bugs like wheat paste, dries matte in thin applications, and forms a weak bond that is long-lasting and can be dissolved if you change your mind. Use it on light-weight to medium-weight papers. Benefits from having a weight placed on it till dry.

PVA is polyvinyl acetate, commonly known as white glue. There is very little difference between different brands. It is meant to hold together porous surfaces (paper, wood, but not glass or metal) and can’t fill gaps. It’s not poisonous (unless you ingest it). Use the acid-free kind for longest, best use. With clamping, will hold almost any kind of paper or cloth. Not meant to be used with cloth that will be washed.

Rubber Cement was once hugely popular. It binds quickly and has solvents instead of water, so it warps papers less. It breaks down quickly, however, so don’t use it for anything you plan on keeping held together for more than three months.

Spray adhesive disperses tiny droplets with a spray. The material in the spray may be toxic, so it is best used in a well-ventilated place and in a container to avoid contaminating everything around it. If you use it outside, and there is a breeze, spray will drift, and get on anything around it. The small drops keep paper from warping and usually works on many different kinds of paper.

2. What kind of paper are you using? Papers use different amounts of sizing–a coating that prevents water from soaking in. The more size, the less water soaks in.

Some papers are thicker than others. If the paper is unsized, and can absorb more water, and it is thin, the water doesn’t have a lot of places to go–and you get wrinkles.

Thin paper (like tissue or lightweight copy paper) warps more easily than thick paper (like watercolor paper.) Watercolor paper comes with different amounts of sizing to control the rate that water is absorbed.

Calendered paper (paper that has passed through hot, heavy rollers) has a harder, slicker surface and won’t absorb water as fast as soft, non-calendered paper.

Paper made with short cotton fibers absorbs paper into the short fibers, which get fat. Paper with long cotton fibers sucks up water quickly and distributes it along the length of the fiber by capillary action, spreading the water out further.

3. The humidity. The more humid it is, the more water the paper already has in it, the slower the water will evaporate, and the more it will soak in and warp the paper.

Tips to avoid warping: Apply a spray of water (in a bottle mister) to both sides of the paper. When the paper relaxes from curling, you can use the glue with less warping.

Use a glue palette. Don’t dip your brush into the big bottle. Pour a puddle onto a piece of plastic–a yogurt container lid, a piece of plastic wrap–and use that to avoid contamination of the big bottle. In a dry climate, the big bottle dries out faster, too. Use only distilled water to re-wet the glue. Minerals mixing with the glue from tap water can stain your work.

Brush from the center to the edge. Do not puddle glue in the middle of the project, use a brush and brush toward the edge. Less chance of ripping the paper.

Use a thin coat of glue, like acrylic medium, on both sides of the sheet before you start working. Let it dry thoroughly. You can then use more glue without wrinkling the paper.
More practical tips on how to glue.
A great site called This to That, that suggests glues for various products you want to stick together.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, coach and artist. Her book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published in 2011 by North Light Books.

2 thoughts on “The Perfect Glue–A Sticky Question

  1. I am using gum arabic on 17 gsm paper sheet and it gets wrinkles while using.. so please advice me for how to prepare gum arabic so that my paper doesnt get wrinkeld.

    • You didn’t tell me how you are preparing it, how you put it on your paper, or what the paper is made of, so I can’t answer your question. My guess is that you are using too much water and that the paper is very lightweight–maybe tissue weight. That’s what’s wrinkling the paper, not the gum arabic.

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